As of tomorrow it has been one month since I started this crazy adventure! And in 6 days I find out my site – my home for the next 2 years. I am thrilled and anxious and excited and scared and I love this country more and more every day.
Speaking of emotional roller coasters, this past week was quite the ride. Training was a blur of language classes and tech training. We have been learning how to grow organic gardens, which is interesting but I don’t think I have a green thumb. We cleared out part of the overgrown field behind the training center and made a giant garden, and each of the health volunteers was assigned a plot. We learned about compost and vermiculture (worm farming…apparently worms make great compost) and making pesticides from natural ingredients. The dirt here is so dry and sandy though that it doesn’t seem like anything is going to grow, despite extensive watering and constantly poking the seeds back into the soil when I accidentally uproot them by watering too vigorously. I also found an old shoe buried deep in the soil of my garden the other day while watering, which was odd.
The bad thing about spending so much time in the gardens is the bugs. They don’t have normal mosquitos here because the altitude is so high…instead they have these tiny microscopic mosquitos that are impervious to bug spray. The first day we worked in the garden, Monday, I got bitten up pretty bad but didn’t even realize it until hours later. My body did NOT react kindly to these unknown bites. On Wednesday I noticed one of the bites on my ankle had turned into this giant, liquid-filled blister thing. It was swollen and it hurt and there was a lot of pressure and I was convinced millions of tiny alien eggs were going to come pouring out at any moment. I called the doctor and she said I probably just had an allergic reaction to the bug bite, and I should take advil and elevate my leg. I tried not to worry about the alien eggs and went about my life. When I woke up on Friday morning, both of my legs were COVERED in these giant blister things. My calves and ankles were swollen up to twice their normal size and there were giant, painful, oozing blisters everywhere. I panicked and called the doctor again, who told me to come into the medical office in Quito. That was an adventure in and of itself, because I had to take 3 public buses to get to the office….I had been there once before, but public transportation in Quito can be kind of terrifying. But I didn’t want the alien babies to eat my legs, so I sucked it up and got there on my own. The doctor told me it was an allergic reaction to the bites and proceeded to use a giant syringe to drain all the liquid out of my legs and clean out all the bites. She patched me up with giant bandages and put me on antibiotics, as well as vitamin B1 which is supposed to make my skin smelly to insects. She said in the future my body probably won’t react as badly to the bugs, I just need time to adjust, but just to be safe I will probably be wearing a hazmat suit and 100% deet repellant at all times. Glad that’s over with!
We celebrated the end of the week on Friday by going to a bar in the next-door town of Cumbaya to watch the Ecuador-Peru soccer match. Every bar in town was completely packed…soccer is SUCH a big deal here. Soccer has never been overly exciting to me but it was fun to cheer on my new country’s team (…they lost). On Saturday morning I went to Quito with some Peace Corps friends to spend the day sightseeing. It took us way longer to get there than we thought it would (the Ecuador bus system is so hard to navigate!!!) and I had to be back home by 6 for a dinner so we ended up not having that much time, but we had an amazing lunch of wine, garlic bread, and pizza, and then walked around the historical district and were completely mobbed by school-aged children trying to talk to us and take pictures and videos of us. It kind of seemed like they thought we were famous from the way they were acting so I tried to convince them I was Hannah Montana. I don’t think they bought it.
This was the main square in the historical district of Quito. In the background you can see the Virgin of Guadalupe – she is on a giant hill overlooking the city and her arms are stretched towards Volcan Pichincha, the giant volcano Quito is built around. She protects Quito from the volcano and stops it from erupting. So far, so good!
Garlic bread, wine, and people watching – perfect Saturday afternoon!
We also bought a lot of deserts and completely destroyed them.
After eating a lot, we went to Teleferico, which is a giant cable car that takes you to the top of one of the mountains overlooking Quito. The elevation is ridiculous – it was at least a 20 degree drop in temperature, and it was really difficult to catch our breath because the air was so thin. We gasped and hobbled our way to the overlook at the top of the mountain, and the views were unlike anything I have ever seen. It was incredible. I would have stayed up there all day if wasn’t so cold and out of breath.
As soon as we got back from Quito I had to leave with my host family to go to a dinner with some of their friends, who happen to be American and Australian. My host dad knows a lot of foreigners because he drives taxis between the airport and Quito, and a lot of his clients have become close friends. I’m not sure how exactly they all became friends because the Australians don’t speak a word of Spanish and my host dad doesn’t speak any English, but somehow they are all great friends! They invited all of us to dinner at the little hotel they were staying at nearby, and it was amazing. We had a three course meal of grilled shrimp, filet mignon, and crepes with ice cream and strawberries, as well as margaritas and 4 bottles of wine. I’m not entirely sure filet mignon was what JFK had in mind when he created the Peace Corps, saying “Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs.” Nonetheless, it was a fun experience!
Peace Corps training hasn’t been a complete walk in the park, but I’d feel like I’d be cheating if it was. I haven’t had a warm shower since I’ve been here (my family has “warm” water but I think by most standards it would actually rank closer to “freezing cold”) and about an hour ago I found a massive spider in my bed and freaked out a lot. We also get chased down by ferocious wild dogs on a fairly regular basis…although they usually back off when you pretend to through rocks at them. My experiences thus far have been a combination of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows that come many, many times every day. I feel lucky to be here and I can’t wait to see what the next two years has in store.
These are some pictures from our Sunday hike to the top of Volcan Ilalo, which overlooks Tumbaco. It took about 5 hours but the views were totally worth it. I really can’t get enough of how beautiful everything is here, and I think I’m probably starting to annoy everyone around me by how much I talk about it.
OH and I almost forgot – the title of this blog post is from a quote by Desmond Tutu that I love a lot. He said, “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”